Together with a historical lack of investment in water infrastructure, the growth of cities has gradually resulted in uneven access to drinking water across the country and within urban centres. Furthermore, low investment in water cleaning infrastructure has raised sanitation and environmental concerns. Some projects have been implemented in recent years to address this, combining government funding, international lending and foreign expertise, and new projects, including what will be the country’s largest water treatment plant, are currently under way.
GOVERNMENT PRIORITY: Poor access to drinking water and sewage services has elicited a strong response from the government, which has made remedying the situation a priority under its Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan, a government document outlining key development priorities.
According to the Gabonese government, the rate of access to drinking water in the country is insufficient, with 94% of urban areas and 45.8% of rural areas having access. Furthermore, the average rate of access to sewage services was 32% in 2008, or 33% and 30% respectively in urban and rural areas, while the world average stood at 45%. Traditionally, infrastructure has been minimal, with insufficient drainage, inadequate treatment facilities and poor maintenance. However, there has been a push to improve capital spending in recent years.
DRINKING WATER: A few projects have been undertaken recently to improve drinking water access across the country, most notably in Libreville. The French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement, AFD), for one, has offered an €18m loan to finance a 2010-13 investment programme, including the connection of the water treatment station complex in Ntoum to Libreville, the construction of two major water reservoirs – with a 7500-cu-metre capacity at PK 9 and a 10,000-cu-metre capacity at Cité de la Caisse – and a large diameter water pipeline to be built from PK 6 to Cité de la Caisse.
While these new works aim to secure Libreville’s drinking water storage and distribution capacity, especially for the northern side of the city, two other major projects seek to raise water production and distribution for the capital and its surroundings.
SOGEA Gabon, a subsidiary of SOGEA-SATOM, is partnering with the Société d’Électricité de Télé- phone et d’Eau du Gabon for the construction of a third water pipeline with a 1200 mm diameter to connect Ntoum with Libreville, an overall distance of 32 km. The new construction project is fully funded by the state, and is expected to cost €89m, with work taking 29 months to complete. “The third pipeline is 40% completed and should be ready by the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015,” Société d’Énergie et d’Eau du Gabon’s (SEEG) secretary-general, JeanPierre Lasseni Duboze, told OBG. Once on-line, and following the construction of a seventh water treatment station at Ntoum, the new water distribution infrastructure will be able to carry 300,000 cu metres of water per day and, as a result, is expected to reduce the problems experienced in providing Libreville and its surroundings with drinking water.
While the project to design and build the seventh water treatment station in Ntoum was originally planned for SEEG, a €50m contract was instead awarded in May 2013 to Acciona, a Spain-based provider of renewable energy, infrastructure and water services. The new station will be integrated into the existing water treatment complex of Ntoum, raising its production capacity to 315,000 cu metres of water per day. Independently capable of producing 140,000 cu metres of drinking water a day, the new treatment station is expected to help meet the area’s estimated water needs for the next 15 years. Construction is set to begin in July 2013 and should be concluded by the end of 2014.
CLEAN WATER: Clean water expansion has also been the focus of a few projects supported by international actors, including the AFD and the EU. The AFD has two projects aimed at supporting the development of clean water infrastructure in Port-Gentil and Libreville. The Port-Gentil project comprises a loan of €55m with an implementation period from 2010 to 2016 and has two components, one focused on rain water and the other on wastewater, the latter of which is co-funded by French oil company Total Gabon. “The Port-Gentil wastewater component,” AFD Project Coordinator Antoine Durand told OBG, “is a pilot project, which, if successful, could be applied to other areas of the country.”
As for Libreville, the AFD is currently carrying out a three-pronged programme extending from 2010 to 2013 with a loan of €20m. The programme is designed to support the development of a Water Sanitation Master Plan for Libreville, carry out a construction programme and provide social support to those targeted by the project.
The EU also has an ongoing project, funded by the European Commission under the 10th European Development Fund (2008-13) and the Gabonese government. The €18.7m project focuses on Nzeng Ayong, the neighbourhood with the most inhabitants in the capital and an area often affected by floods during the rainy season.
CHALLENGES AHEAD: Despite the efforts undertaken so far, the government may still face a number of challenges as it works to improve access to drinking water and sanitation. The coordinated development of drinking water production, distribution and storage infrastructure, for example, could prove challenging. While the construction of a third pipeline and a seventh water treatment station are planned to be ready at about the same time, a limited storage capacity in Libreville could raise difficulties.
In April 2013, the capital had eight water reservoirs, with a combined capacity of more than 145,000 cu metres of drinking water yet, according to the AFD, this represented less than a quarter of the capital’s daily drinking water requirements. In light of this shortage, the construction of additional reservoirs is a welcome improvement, although maintenance efforts for the existing storage infrastructure could still be required. According to local media, in April 2013, six of the city’s eight reservoirs were not operational due to obsolete equipment.
Another challenge that may emerge in the medium to long term is the limited number of water sources available close to Ntoum. According to Alain Herth, director-general of the Regulatory Agency for the Drinking Water and Electricity Sectors, “If a new water source is not added, we may end up treating the same amount of water, raising an issue of drinking water distribution in the medium to long term, especially as demand for drinking water continues to grow.” To address this challenge, Erwan Rouxel, SEEG concession contract director, told OBG, “A project to bring water from Kango in the medium to long run, namely by 2015 or 2020, is currently being studied as part of a government initiative.”
Notwithstanding these difficulties, an ongoing government impetus to expand drinking and clean water access is likely to continue offering opportunities for investors, as illustrated by SOGEA and Acciona’s current involvement in major water infrastructure projects. New opportunities are likely to emerge, given the existing drinking and clean water needs, especially in major urban centres where most of the population resides.
In the instance of Libreville, for example, growing demand for water may force the city to find a new water source in the medium to long term. This could entail further public and private investment to help develop new water production and distribution infrastructure. In the meantime, the ongoing maintenance of the existing water infrastructure could also attract investment, including foreign financial and technical support. Going forward, the government will most likely continue relying on a mix of its own funding, international lending and foreign expertise to overcome the sector’s various challenges.
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